This summer I have had the pleasure of volunteering in the gardens at Fort Edmonton. Although the gardens are beautiful, I hadn’t paid as much attention to them as I had to the buildings before. Spending time weeding them gave me a chance to get to know them a little better.
The first garden was grown by a heritage interpreter 15 years ago behind Kenneth MacDonald house. The garden has now been surpassed by the many other gardens on the grounds because it is shaded by trees, just like my garden at home. The garden at the front of MacDonald house grows plants with medicinal properties that his Metis wife would have known about.
The gardening hub at Fort Edmonton is, naturally, at Ramsay’s Greenhouse, which I have to admit I had never even been inside before.
I would love to see the greenhouse in spring before the plants are moved into the gardens, but it is a great space, even when empty.
Although I had admired the Peony Garden in previous visits to the Fort, I didn’t know much about it’s history or why there was a garden devoted to just to Peonies. I learned that the Silver Heights Peony Garden was first established by Dr. James Brander in 1921 and was the source for many of the peonies found in western Canada today. By 1930 the five acre site in Bonnie Doon had over two hundred varieties of peonies. The peonies grown at Fort Edmonton are descended from plants purchased from the Bonnie Doon site, collected by a heritage gardener who combed through receipts and tracked down plants still growing in Edmonton.
I spent a morning weeding purslane from the Peony Garden, which gave me a lot of time to watch the goings on on 1920s street. A lot of time is spent weeding purslane from the Peony Garden because it is a very persistent plant, it can grow back from just a leaf left on the ground. Ironically just after I spent the morning weeding purslane, I read about it served in a fancy restaurant. I guess purslane can be considered friend or foe depending on whether you plan to eat it.
One of my favourite gardens is the Salad Garden behind the greenhouse where greens, herbs and edible flowers are grown for the kitchen at the Selkirk Hotel. I would never have known it was there if I didn’t spend a pleasant morning weeding it.
One of the best parts of working in the gardens, aside from working with the plants and learning from Bill, one of the Heritage Gardeners, was feeding the weeds to the pigs. It seems much more efficient than bagging them for curb side pick up.
I am planning to continue to volunteer in the gardens, because there so much I want to learn about how some of the plants were used. I would love to learn more about how the plants in Ottewell’s Garden were used as dyes and the medicinal uses of many of the plants grown on site.